Arizona's biotech industry will get a shot in the arm Friday with the groundbreaking of a new bioscience research center in downtown Phoenix.
Officially called the Phoenix Bioscience Center at Copper Square, the complex is expected to have an impact far beyond the Phoenix city limits, bolstering a biotechnology business cluster that is developing across Arizona.
Underscoring the importance that many state officials attach to the $46 million project, Gov. Janet Napolitano is scheduled to be among the speakers at the ceremony, which is expected to attract hundreds of VIPs. The 170,000-square-foot center will be the headquarters for the International Genomics Consortium and the Translational Genomics Research Institute, two nonprofit organizations developing improved treatments for genetically related diseases.
The consortium is creating a database of genomic information that the institute, under the leadership of renowned geneticist Dr. Jeffrey Trent, will use to develop treatments for cancer and other complex diseases. The six-story building is scheduled to be completed by the end of next year.
Phoenix is building the structure and will own the building, leasing it to the institute, the consortium and other tenants. The institute will occupy three floors, and the consortium will occupy one floor. One floor will be occupied by a branch of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, one of the National Institutes of Health. The other floor will be available to start-up biotech companies.
Once the building is completed, the institute will vacate temporary labs and office space the group has been using in Tempe. Scientists have gotten a head start by leasing space from OrthoLogic Corp. and occupying donated space from Banner Health Arizona at the Papago Park Center.
The institute, which began operations last fall, has about 100 employees, about half scientists and the other half administrators, said spokeswoman Francie Noyes. The group plans to reach 300 employees within three to four years, she said.
Two research programs have already been set up in DNA sequencing and neuro-genomics, she said. In addition to finding cures for serious diseases, supporters hope the bioscience center will serve as the foundation for a major biotechnology industry in Arizona. Discoveries made by center researchers could be commercialized by new start-up companies, creating thousands of new, well-paying jobs.
A study by Battelle Memorial Institute concluded that Arizona's biotech industry could grow by an additional 12,900 jobs and an additional 120 firms by 2012. That would more than double the size of the state's biotech sector, which has about 450 establishments employing 9,100, the institute said.
One of the major benefits would be to diversify the state's economy into a field that is expected to be one of the fastest growing in the nation, the study said.
“The challenge is for Arizona to catch up to other states by building a world-class research base,” said Walt Plosila, Battelle's vice president for public technology management.
Jason Harris, manager of the project for Phoenix, said the TGen/IGC building will be just the first structure in what will become a 15-acre biosciences education and research campus in downtown Phoenix. Eventually about 1 million square feet of labs, offices, classrooms and other facilities could be developed at the site, he said. The property, which is bounded by Van Buren, Fillmore, Fifth and Seventh streets, is the former location of Phoenix Union High School.
The Arizona BioMedical Collaborative, a partnership of the three state universities, could develop its own facilities on the campus devoted to biotech work force education and research activities. That project is contingent on the Arizona Legislature approving a $440 million research funding package for the universities, Harris said.
Three historic Phoenix Union High School buildings may be refurbished by the universities to serve as offices and classrooms, he said.